[extropy-chat] The Undying [Threads on this List]

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Sat Dec 2 14:53:59 UTC 2006

Jef writes

> Rafal Smigrodzki wrote:
>> There seem to be a few threads on the list that seemingly cannot
>> die. One of them involves pointless (IMO) struggles over the
>> meaning of "rationality". This word has a reasonably clear
>> definition provided on wikipedia,
Okay:  Here is it:  General definition
Rationality is a characteristic which human behaviour or human situations can have, and it normally refers to a means-ends 
relationship, in which there is a non-arbitrary relationship between a conscious purpose or goal and the means to achieve it. If the 
chosen means are indeed conducive to achieving the purpose or goal, they are judged rational, if not, they are judged irrational. 
Behaviour which is arbitrary or random is normally regarded as irrational. However, purposes and goals can themselves be judged 
rational or irrational, with reference to other relevant means-ends relationships.

>> although there is also a Gordian knot of circular definitions scattered
>> over other sources.

Well, the wikipedia definition plainly tries to cover too many bases for
our purposes here. (I have no argument with it for a Wikipedia description,
but we require a narrower usage.)

Moreover, I haven't seen a *problem* arising because we didn't know
what the term referred to; yes, we wonder about what is the most useful
scope of it we ought to employ, but that's all, and doesn't IMO really
cause confusion.

>> There is no need to invent a definition of this common term, and if new
>> but related referents need a name, it's better to come up with a new word.

Quite right. But neologisms are almost always as futile as "attempting
to define all your terms and prove all your propositions". [1]

>> I know that since "rational" has strong positive emotional
>> and moral connotations (especially among us self-declared
>> rationalists), there is the temptation to redefine the term
>> so as to be able to claim the moral high ground but it only
>> sows confusion (irrationality, one might say) and makes for
>> horribly boring threads.

My general advice has been for one to avoid horribly boring threads,
(for what it's worth).

> Rafal, I agree with you that it gets old rehashing what we mean by
> rationality.  Same goes for personal identity, free-will, morality and
> X*.

I dispute that the problem is inability to reach and agree upon common
definition.  At least in most cases, even we on the extropian list are far
too intelligent to just debate terminology;  in most these cases there is
something real that is bothering people.  (An interesting exception,
however, is "qualia".  People who believe in qualia just have their
epistemology so screwed up that they're usually beyond help.)

> But it's interesting to me that this problem of understanding runs so
> deeply on a common thread tied to the meaning of self.

I demur slightly; morality has never to me seemed to depend on the
meaning of self.

> And it's very interesting that we have yet to come to terms with this,
> or agree widely that it's a problem, even as we claim to anticipate and
> embrace radical technological change that clearly threatens to challenge
> our practical understanding of these concepts.

I feel that one of Jef's usual exhortations that morality is about what
works coming on.

> There's a tendency for thinkers of above average intelligence to
> discover and climb the mountain of libertarian philosophy nearly to its
> peak and stand there in awe of the elegance of its structure and the
> sharpness of its fine point. But fewer then move back down the
> slope--not all the way down to the tepid waters of "ideal"democracy
> --but partway down to the fog at the edge of chaos where Self
> meets the adjacent possible, and novel structures branch anew.

Oh, I was wrong.  Instead, we have material that could start
about four interesting threads.

> Sorry to go all poetic on your shit, but there's a self-reinforcing
> sterility to certain forms of rational thought, and it takes more than
> logic to break out of that kind of rut.

Quite a number of us have been viewing rationality---or as I like
to call it---"hyperrationality" with deep suspicion for a long time.
If you've not read "The Robot's Rebellion", I cannot recommend
it highly enough.  It's not that I entirely sympathize with the author
---he's a socialist, for one thing, but he very clearly delineates
what the problem is here, and suggests language and provides
information that seem to me crucial for making progress.

> *X in the sequence above stands for an as yet unimplemented form of
> collaborative social decision making based on a rational understanding
> of the preceding items in the sequence.  See the thread?

You should make it clear that this is only a conjecture on your part
that such a form of collaborative social decision-making exists or
will exist. Yes, it's probably tied up with identity, but I've taken a
stand on what I mean by identity, and so long as I'm Lee Corbin,
that view, which I've held since 1966, is not going to change. I'll
turn into someone else the day it does.


[1] "If he contend, as sometimes he will contend, that he has defined all his
terms and proved all his propositions, then either he is a performer of logical
miracles or he is an ass; and, as you know, logical miracles are impossible."
--Cassius J. Keyser

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